Mini Lamb Koftas with Pomegranate Wine Sauce

Mini Lamb Koftas with Pomegranate Wine Sauce ~ a delicious appetizer inspired by one of the Middle East’s favorite meatballs!

Koftas are ground and spiced lamb, shaped into balls or ovals, skewered and then grilled. They are common all over the Middle East, but usually you see them full sized. I thought it would be fun to do a tiny version, just perfect for toothpicks and cocktails.

Just one pound of lamb makes an army of little kofta. You can make and shape them ahead and cook just before you need them if you want.

They cook up really quickly in a skillet so they’re great for entertaining. But I have to be honest, the Pomegranate Sauce has to get equal billing. It all started when my daughter and I stopped for lunch on our way home from a round of holiday returns. It was the same old story, we return a bunch of stuff I bought for her, and she finds a few things that she actually likes, things that I wouldn’t have picked out for her in a million years. It’s become a warm and fuzzy holiday tradition.

We chose a Middle Eastern restaurant in a mini mall. (In LA, some of the best ethnic restaurants are in mini malls.)  We ordered Moroccan spiced lamb cigars and they came on top of the most amazing sauce we’ve ever had. It was simply called red wine sauce. It was thick, blood red, sweet/tart, and heavily (heavily) spiced with cinnamon. I asked about it but all they would tell me was that it was made with red wine. I could taste pomegranate as well as the cinnamon, and I was pretty sure I could recreate it.

I tried once and it wasn’t quite right. The second time I hit it right on. There was a lot of oohing and ahhing in the kitchen as we tasted it. It’s incredible. Thick, syrupy, winey, sweet tart, with the surprise spicy heat of cinnamon. I’m pretty sure you’ve never tasted anything like it. There’s only one problem— in order to create this incredible sauce you need to reduce 2 cups of red wine and 2 cups of pomegranate juice down to just about 1/2 cup of syrup. Kind of a splurge. But worth it. And a little goes a long way. And anyway, we are celebrating the fact that it’s Friday, aren’t we?

When you bite into the kofta the lamb is moist and tinted a golden yellow from all the spices. There is a little kick of heat at the back of your mouth. The flavors are so bright and vivid in this appetizer, I hope you give it a try. The koftas are adapted from Rachel Allen, but the sauce is all mine!

5 from 2 votes

Mini Lamb Koftas with Pomegranate Wine Sauce

Course Appetizer
Cuisine Middle Eastern
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 55 minutes
Chilling time 30 minutes
Author Sue Moran


For the koftas

  • 1 egg
  • 1 medium onion, very finely minced
  • 1 shallot, very finely minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp hot smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbsp minced fresh coriander (cilantro)
  • 2 Tbsp minced fresh mint
  • 1 lb lean ground lamb
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, for frying

For the pomegranate wine sauce

  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon


For the koftas

  • In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg.  Mix in everything else, except the olive oil.  Break apart the lamb into chunks as you add it to help evenly distribute it without over mixing.  Although you want to get all the ingredients well combined, over working the meat will toughen your koftas.  If your mixture is very wet, add a little more wheat germ.
  • Using a tablespoon or small scoop, take a small portion of meat and roll it in your hands, first into a round ball to firm it up, and then back and forth to elongate it into an oval shape.
  • Set the kofta on a tray and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.  This will firm them up further.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and brown the kofta on both sides.  Continue cooking until they are cooked through and an instant read thermometer reads 160.  This will only take a few minutes.
  • Skewer each kofta with a long cocktail toothpick and serve with a small amount of the pomegranate sauce.

For the pomegranate wine sauce

  • Bring the wine and juice to a boil in a saucepan.  Continue boiling, uncovered, until the sauce is reduced and thickened, almost 45 minutes.  Whisk in the cinnamon towards the end of the cooking.  You should be left with about 1/2 cup of ambrosia!  Don't waste a drop!

notes and variations

I minced my onion, shallot and garlic in the small food processor because I wanted a very fine texture for my mini koftas. If you do this, drain the mixture well to get rid of excess water, I used a mesh strainer and a lot of liquid came out.
If you don't want the wine sauce, serve these koftas with a simple Greek yogurt dip. Mix the yogurt with some lemon and cilantro or mint.  Add a little tahini if you like.
Kofta recipe adapted from Rachel Allen.
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.

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    Leave a Reply

    Please rate this recipe!

  • Reply
    October 9, 2020 at 10:33 am

    Hi, Sue.
    For the pomegranate wine sauce, can I just boil pomegranate seeds with the wine and strain it after it has been reduced? Thanks!

    • Reply
      October 10, 2020 at 12:07 pm

      I haven’t tried that Mia, so I’m not sure how it would work, sorry.

  • Reply
    Kathy McLain
    October 24, 2018 at 11:51 am

    One more question! Do I use fresh pomegranate juice (process and drain the seeds) or store bought? I see all the recipes for juice include the addition of water and sugar…

    • Reply
      October 24, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      I use the ready made juice.

  • Reply
    September 2, 2017 at 6:36 am

    Does the papirika make these spicy. What would you recommend I use instead of hot spices.
    Thank you.

    • Reply
      October 10, 2020 at 12:08 pm

      You can substitute regular sweet paprika Jeanie.

  • Reply
    Kofta Yummm
    December 29, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    This looks SO good and want to make this soon! I wanted to make sure your instruction is correct, to BOIL the wine and pomegranate juice for about 45 minutes, not simmer, right? Thanks for sharing your recipes!! Happy New Year!

    • Reply
      December 29, 2015 at 3:41 pm

      Somewhere in between, just to let it reduce drastically. Happy New Year to you too!

      • Reply
        Kofta Yummm
        December 30, 2015 at 11:05 am

        Thanks so much, Sue!! 🙂

  • Reply
    December 13, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    If I don’t have any wheat germ and don’t really use it often enough to buy it, what would you recommend as a substitute?

    • Reply
      December 14, 2015 at 7:34 am

      You could substitute any kind of bread crumb, Maddie.

  • Reply
    Hannah Kilcoyne
    September 8, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    5 stars
    Just made this and it turned out great! I used beef but I am sure lamb would be great too. I made a half batch of the sauce (limited by the amount of leftover red wine I had) and it still worked perfectly in the smaller quantity. This is one of the best things I’ve cooked!

    • Reply
      September 8, 2014 at 4:47 pm

      I’m so glad to hear that Hannah! I can still taste that wine sauce…

  • Reply
    August 21, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Absolutely, I’d bake them at 350F for, I don’t know, maybe 10 to 15 minutes? Good luck!

  • Reply
    June 11, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Will this be good with venison instead of the lamb? I still have half a buck in my deep freeze so I can’t justify buying meat right now… and red wine goes well with venison. What do you think?

    • Reply
      October 10, 2020 at 12:09 pm

      I can’t say, I’ve never tried venison, but I bet it would be fine.

  • Reply
    kitchen roach/galley roach
    February 2, 2013 at 2:29 am

    This looks fantastic. I will try it soon but have to substitute with ground beef .

  • Reply
    Tricia @ saving room for dessert
    January 7, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Where did they all go? I love the lamb appetizer idea and the sauce sounds thick with flavor. You are a magician when it comes to recreating recipes. Very nice indeed! (P.S. I just let me daughter tell me what she wants – no returns ha ha)

  • Reply
    January 6, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Cannot wait to try these – they look so delicious!

  • Reply
    Rebecca Subbiah
    January 6, 2013 at 12:54 am

    wow these look amazing great for parties

  • Reply
    l o v e l y t h i n g s
    January 5, 2013 at 5:33 pm


    These look so delicious…I love every one of your photos, right down to the last one with the plate of empty toothpicks.

    So true about finding the greatest little restaurants in strip malls….only in LA though.


  • Reply
    Magnolia Verandah
    January 5, 2013 at 1:35 am

    As we are well entrenched in the heat of summer at the moment these little babies are perfect on the BBQ and eaten around the pool, and that red wine sauce sounds a “must have” dip. Will let you know if I get the ooohs and ahhhs too!

  • Reply
    Mary Younkin
    January 4, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    5 stars
    This looks amazing. That sauce is as tempting as the pomegranate molasses. They both are just beautiful!!

  • Reply
    Eat Live Love
    January 4, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    This made me so hungry right now!! They look absolutely delicious!

  • Reply
    Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
    January 5, 2013 at 12:06 am

    warm and fuzzy holiday tradition…ha ha ha ha! Both the koftas and the pomegranate sauce sound FABULOUS!

  • Reply
    January 4, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    that sauce is GORGEOUS! and what a great choice of flavors the pair with those lovely lamb balls. terrific, sue!

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      January 4, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      I don’t drink red wine, so from now on, any time I have some leftover from a party, etc., I know just what I’m going to do with it!

  • Reply
    Averie @ Averie Cooks
    January 4, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    The Pomegranate Wine Sauce is something I could eat by the spoonful on ANYTHING. Red wine, pom, cinnamon. Nuff said. If we could somehow work in balsamic vinegar, I’d have seconds 🙂

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      January 4, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      The cinnamon was the real kicker. And I think there are lots of uses for it, not just in Middle Eastern dishes, but on regular grilled meats and chicken, too.

  • Reply
    January 4, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    Sounds fabulous. I was wondering whethe pomegranate molasses might work in the sauce.

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      January 4, 2013 at 9:54 pm

      The first time I tried the sauce I used the molasses, and it is possible, but the flavor wasn’t as good, at least the way I made it. I think it’s worth experimenting with, though. The color is much more vibrant when you use the juice, and overall I think the sauce was better starting from equal amounts wine and juice.

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